Analysis: Will Amazon cancel its warehouse union movement?

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There are 950,000 people employed at 355 current and planned Amazon fulfillment and sorting centers in the United States. But one such facility – Staten Island’s JFK-8 – may contain their fate within its walls.

As reported last week, workers at New York’s only Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) fulfillment center voted to be represented by the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) – the group of current and former employees behind the push for unionization — by a margin of 2,654 to 2,131, making the facility the only Amazon warehouse to unionize in the company’s 28 years in business.

According to federal labor officials, the results were expected to be finalized by Friday, the deadline by which objections from the ALU and Amazon can be submitted. But with a margin of victory of over 500 votes, it looks like the pro-union side has a victory.

Of course, it didn’t take long for Amazon to fight back. The huge e-commerce seller said in a legal filing with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which oversaw the Staten Island election, on Wednesday that it plans to bring charges of voter coercion and intimidation against the Amazon Labor Union, in addition to claims of “frivolous accusations of unfair labor practices against Amazon” made to the NLRB.

Amazon will now have until April 22 to provide proof of its claims that the ALU “threatened employees to coerce them into voting yes”, “organized elections and interfered with employees waiting in line to vote”. and “threatened immigrants with loss of benefits if they did not vote.


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This could be a tipping point for warehouse organizing efforts at hundreds of Amazon and non-Amazon facilities. A group of local workers, without any international union support, have just won a union vote against one of the most anti-union companies in recent memory, and they are about to enter the belly of the beast.

But how did we get here?

Organizing efforts within Amazon have generally been met with strong opposition from the e-commerce giant. In 2000, after two national unions launched organizing drives for Amazon workers, the company published a guide on its internal website advising managers on how to identify and cancel union organizing efforts. in their facilities.

Later efforts were not much more successful. After his own attempt to unionize, a group of 850 Amazon workers in Seattle were fired, with union organizers saying the layoffs were a response to his organizing efforts. Amazon has denied any connection between the two.

Over the next decade, the pressures for unionization began to subside, with Amazon seemingly gaining the upper hand. But the warehouse workers were not done fighting.

In 2014, a small group of workers at an Amazon warehouse in Middletown, Delaware, reignited organizing efforts with a campaign for a collective bargaining agreement, but again Amazon shut it down. Union organizers claimed that workers “had come under intense pressure from anti-union managers and consultants” during the campaign after Amazon enlisted Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, a law firm specializing in struggle against unions.

It was a similar story in 2016 at an Amazon warehouse in Chester, Virginia. According to regulatory documents and facility employees, Amazon called in human resources officials to track the movements of labor organizers, described supporters of the effort as “a cancer and a disease” and even accused an insubordinate organizer, threatening dismissal if he continued to have what the company called “a negative impact.”


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After the union filed a complaint with the NLRB, Amazon quietly settled with union organizers. But by then, the majority of employees who supported unionization had abandoned the effort.

These same tactics have been used against workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama since 2020, when a group of 1,500 employees began organizing workers to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union ( RWDSU).

Amazon again appealed to the anti-union law firm Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, tried to delay the vote several times, posted signs to discourage unionization and created a larger bargaining unit to dilute the penetration of the union in the establishment. In February 2021, 40% of the facility’s 6,000 eligible employees took part in a unionization vote, with the vast majority voting against a union.

Shortly thereafter, the RWDSU filed a complaint against Amazon with the NLRD. A few months later, the agency ordered a re-vote, finding that “a free and fair election was impossible” and that there was a “possibility that employer misconduct had influenced some of those 2,000 eligible voters”. [who did not vote].”

This new vote took place last March, with the counting of votes ending this week. The results are still too close to announce: 993 workers voted against unionization while 875 voted for, but more than 400 disputed votes remain. These disputed ballots could influence the outcome.

But if Staten Island’s JFK-8 is any indication, even a majority vote might not be enough for Amazon to give its employees a union victory. Still, the narrow margins at Staten Island and Bessemer could serve as an indicator for organizing efforts at other Amazon hubs.

So far, not a single institution has managed to unionize. But if the union victory at JFK-8 materializes, it could trigger a domino effect among the thousands of pro-union Amazon warehouse workers who have yet to make inroads at the company.

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